Although Vibroplex fought court battles with Coffe and
later Bunnell, Martin and his business partner Albright could not
ultimately prevent other bugs from appearing on the market. Popular
legally introduced models included the Mecograph, McElroy, and Speed-X.
Many "bootleg" models were found to be direct patent infringements and
were successfully sued by Vibroplex. Eventually, many of these bugs were
"licensed" by Albright for a fee.
William O. Coffe patented a semiautomatic key at about the same time
that Martin patented the Vibroplex. Coffe's vertical bug was called the "Mecograph."
The Mecograph mechanism involved the release of spring tension
to create a vibration, rather than pushing against a spring as did the
Vibroplex. Vibroplex sued Coffe for patent infringement and lost, opening
the door for legal competition. Coffe made very few of the original wood
based Mecograph keys, but soon sold to Bellows who oriented the mechanism
in a horizontal fashion on a brass base. Bellows produced several Mecograph
models before Vibroplex bought him out, presumably to reduce competition.
Mecograph did produce an inline model, the closest in appearance and function
to the Vibroplex patent. Few survive today, and it is likely that few were
This right angle Mecograph from 1907 features a sliding speed control and a
flat brass finish. Many different variations were made.
The right angle Bellows Mecograph No.2 from 1909 was available in a striped
"Mecograph" finish. A wonderful dovetailed wooden box either came with it
or was offered as an accessory.
One of the four keys in this picture is a spy key, the others are not. In general,
keys used in clandestine radios needed to be small and quiet. Most small keys available
these days are novelty pieces and were not spy keys at all. See if you can tell which
of these keys was really a spy key by clicking on the proper key! For further information on the real spy key, check out the special purpose or mission radio section at
Les Logan and Speed-X Bugs
Electro Mfg. began in Fresno, CA around 1927 and then moved to San Francisco. It
is widely believed by collectors to have been the predecessor of Speed-X
which began in San Francisco just after Electro disappeared. Speed-X began
under Stewart Johnson, then was apparently bought by Les Logan. Much later,
circa 1947, the company was bought by E.F. Johnson and moved to Minnesota.
Speed-X made straight keys as well as bugs and practice sets. The ElectroBug
is shown here.
The Electro-Bug Jr. was also made by Electro Mfg. and was similar to the ElectroBug, except that it lacks the
electromagnetic assist to the lever that the ElectroBug had. Note the similarity
to the Logan Speed-X Model 501.
This T-bar Les Logan Model 501 was made in San Francisco, CA and is a
favorite among collectors. The Logan's Model 500 and E.F. Johnson's Model
114-501 were very similar.
Telegraph keys by T.R. McElroy are highly sought after by collectors
perhaps because of McElroy's personality and accomplishments. He holds
the record for the world's fastest telegrapher, at over 75 words per minute!
He manufactured several models of bugs during the late
1930's and early 1940's. Unlike Vibroplex, he did make straight keys as
well. This is the 1936A McElroy. Tom French has published an excellent
book on T.R. McElroy.
The Mac Junior is one of the rarest of the McElroy bugs for collectors to
find. It is also one of the most poorly constructed, being stamped out of
sheet metal rather than cast. This model appeared around 1936.
The S600 is one of the few bugs ever produced on a teardrop shaped
base. Its unique construction makes it another collector's favorite.
Several variations exist. Interestingly, most S600s are chrome plated,
something which McElroy himself thought a poor idea earlier in his career.
T.R. McElroy Chronology, from "McElroy, World's Champion Radio Telegrapher", by Tom French
This is the chrome version of the S600 most people expect to see. It certainly
is a snappy looking bug. On the early T-bar bugs, McElroy cast into the
bottom of the base that he is the worlds fastest telegrapher. On the S600
and later T-bar bugs, he simply includes that on the front label.
Thomas J. Dunn made the "Dunduplex" in 1909 and was eventually put out of business by
Martin and Vibroplex on the basis of patent violations. This bug has a relatively small footprint and can be operated by
using the paddles or pressing the buttons on top of the bridge near the paddles, hence the
"duplex" part of the name. A single lever and a double lever variant were made.
The Melehan Valiant
This hefty telegraph key is called the "Melehan Valiant" and was made around 1940. It is not
a true semiautomatic key or bug. It has two completely independent
vibrating arms on one base with two pivots on one support assembly.
Some inventors had reasoned, if a flat spring could make the "dits" repeat,
then two flat springs could make dits and "dahs" repeat. The Melehan
Valiant, made by Melvin E. Hanson became the most well
known of these fully automatic keys. The Melehan Valiant never really
got a chance to catch on, though. Electronic keyers and computer chips
outmoded most mechanical keying devices by the 1950's. For many of us,
though we use electronic keyers and paddles, they cannot replace the
charm and allure of the early straight keys, the massive keys of spark,
and the bugs.
A to Z Electric Novelty Company
The A to Z Electric Novelty Company, also known as ATOZ, was run by Max Levy of
Chicago, Illinois. ATOZ was in business around 1914. The business was in direct patent
violation of Vibroplex's patents, and was fairly quickly shutdown. ATOZ made a knockoff of
the Vibroplex Original, which is the most common ATOZ found. At least two Dual Lever ATOZ
bugs are still in collections. One model X ATOZ is believed to exist. ATOZ was probably the
most blatant of the Vibroplex patent violators, having the audacity to call its version "The
Improved Vibroplex" in large fancy letters right on the label on the bugs! The bug on the
left is a dual lever ATOZ, and the one on the right is a gray base single lever, or Original
The usefulness of the transformer lies in the fact that electrical
energy can be transferred from one circuit to another without direct
connection, and in the process can be readily changed from one voltage
level to another. A transformer can only be used with alternating current,
since voltage is only induced in the secondary coil when the magnetic
field is changing. The voltage induced in a coil will be proportional
to the number of turns in the coils, and the resulting current will be
inversely proportional to the number of turns. Adapted from "The Radio
Amateur's Handbook", 1973.
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